After wrapping up the Interdependency trilogy, sci-fi author John Scalzi planned to write a weighty and serious novel. Instead, he had a monster of a good time. The Kaiju Preservation Society is an adventurous romp that follows one-time delivery driver Jamie, who lucks into the job of a lifetime working for the titular organization, studying and protecting enormous monsters who live in an alternate dimension. We talked to Scalzi about the book he calls “as much fun as I’ve ever had writing a novel.”
There’s nothing like a good monster book to shake things up. What drew you to writing a story about Kaiju?
Well, I was actually writing another novel entirely—a dark and brooding political novel set in space—and it turns out that 2020 wasn’t a great year to be writing a dark and moody political novel, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who lived through 2020. That novel crashed and burned, and when it did, my brain went, screw it, I’m gonna write a novel with BIG DAMN MONSTERS in it. It was much better for my brain, as it turns out.
When creating the world that the Kaiju live in, what details were important to you? Were there certain inspirations you drew from?
I think the most obvious inspirations were the classic Japanese Kaiju movies, starting with the original Godzilla. From there, I worked backward: If you want to have Kaiju, how do you build a world where they could not only exist, but in fact, it makes sense that they exist? I wanted the world to have at least a sheen of plausibility. So the end result is a much warmer, much more oxygenated Earth, to start . . . and when you have those two things, a lot of other aspects of the world present themselves.
You mention in your author’s note that The Kaiju Preservation Society is “a pop song . . . meant to be light and catchy.” Did it feel like that to you, easy and fun, while writing? Or were there elements that proved to be surprisingly challenging?
Not going to lie, writing Kaiju was as much fun as I’ve ever had writing a novel. Some of that was in contrast to the unfinished novel before it; anything would have been easier than that one, given the subject and year I attempted it in. But most of it was just giving myself permission to feel the joy of writing, and of creating something expressly to be enjoyed. I wrote it as quickly and as easily as I’ve written anything.
There are many homages to sci-fi and monster movie tropes in this book. What preexisting audience expectations served you best?
All of the preexisting expectations served me! One of the important things about world building is that the characters are in on the joke—they’ve seen all the Godzilla movies, they’ve watched Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park, and so all the tropes are on the table for them and the book to lean into, to refute and to play with, depending on the circumstances of the plot. No one, not the characters nor the readers, has to pretend that the characters have no concept of Big Damn Monsters, and that opens up a lot of narrative opportunities.
The dialogue in The Kaiju Preservation Society positively crackles with life. How do you approach writing dialogue?
Dialogue is one of the things I “got for free”—which is to say, something that was already in my toolbox when I got serious about writing. That’s great, but that also means it can be a crutch, something I fall back on too easily, or get sloppy with because I know I can do it more easily than other things. So, paradoxically, it’s something I have to pay attention to, so that it serves the story.
Do you see yourself as a Jamie? Ready to believe, optimistic, quick with a joke? (Maybe we all wish we were like Jamie, at least a little bit.)
You’ve hit on something, which is that Jamie is meant to be someone whom the readers can see themselves in, or at least could see themselves relating to. There’s a little of me in Jamie, sure. There’s also some of me in Jaime’s friends. They each have qualities that help them work together, which becomes important in the book.
OK, real talk: What weapon would you reach for first if you were face to face with a Kaiju?
If I’m being real, I’m going to remember what the weaponmaster in the book asks the characters, which is, basically, “Are you competent enough for that weapon?” Self-honesty is important, especially when some creature wants to eat you. In which case, I’m going for the shotgun: widespread, low level of difficulty to use. Perfect. And then, of course, I’ll run like hell.
Did working on this book make the insanity of 2020 and 2021 any easier to bear? What did you feel like when you finished writing?
When I finished writing, honestly, I was all like, “Fuck yeah, I nailed this one.” Which absolutely made the previous year easier to bear, considering how badly I flubbed the previous novel I had been trying to write, and how awful the year had been generally. I should note I wasn’t having a crisis of confidence in my skills; I’ve written more than 30 books, I know I can do it. But I was disheartened at how that one novel was a mess, and how it all-too-closely mirrored my mental state for 2020. Kaiju got me back in my stride, and I’m grateful for that.
Headshot of John Scalzi courtesy of the author.